Hold your top

An interesting thought occurred to me during the summer of coffee tables. Namely, how do you attach a table top to a table base?

One hand clapping?

Oh, this sounds like a total Zen master type question. Kind of like what is the sound of one hand clapping? You just nail that sucker down to the base and … oh, wait.

Didn’t we once establish on this blog that wood moves due to changes in humidity? Oh, yeah, we did.


So, if you lock a wide table top down to a rigid base, there’s a chance that it could split due to differences in grain orientation and if you have not accounted for wood movement in your design. Believe me, you do not want to glue a breadboard end the entire length of the piece. Wait a few seasons and craaaack…. you got it.

So, what are some ways you can get around this? There are more than a few options available to you. For instance, a few years ago, I built a trestle-based work table, I captured the top of the trestles in between two battens screwed into oversized holes. The top  of the trestle simply rested between the battens and a dowel pin held it in place. Simple, elegant, and it allowed for movement.

Another technique I used on the Cotterman. Basically, I screwed the table base directly to the top using pocket screws, but only on the sides of the table which paralleled the top’s grain. Since wood moves very little along the length of the grain, socking it down in that direction provides little in the way of cross-grain issues.  That means I used just one screw on the short cross pieces of the table right in the middle to hold the top flat across its width.

For the round table, I turned to a mechanical fastener known as a z-clip. Either you can cut a saw kerf (or do what I do and use a biscuit cutter to make a small kerf) in the table supports.  One end of the clip wedges into the kerf while the other end is screwed into the bottom of the table. In this arrangement, the top is free to move, and the z-clip pivots to allow the board to move.

z clip

Sure, it may take a little bit more time and effort to design the table to accomplish these goals, but believe me, after all of your hard work and effort, you will be happy that you took the time.

A house divided

So, back in the early 1860s, Abraham Lincoln was able to see that gosh, there was something bad about to go down.


And, he was right, what with the American Civil War which took place from 1861 – 1865.

But, I’m sure if he was talking about a workshop, he might be saying something along the lines of a shop without a pair of dividers is really not a great place to get any work done.

Why not?


Well, these babies have been an indispensable part of a craftsman’s tool kit for centuries. As you can see from this plate from woodworker Thomas Martin from 1813, a pair of dividers is a critical piece of layout equipment.

Dime StoreIf that’s the case, why have I been relying on something like this?  I have bought my share of plastic dividers at the back to school sales for years, and those suckers would break, wouldn’t hold worth a darn and were just difficult to work with.


I tried to upgrade mine by going with these I picked up at an office supply store. They were better, but the non-marking leg has a point that is adjustable, which means that it’s bound to slip into the leg when you need it to sit firmly on the piece you are measuring. The other problem is that the marking leg is a small piece of graphite which fits into a channel on the leg – difficult to find a replacement for.


So, with these wedding projects coming up that require dividers to do some accurate layout, I sprung for a pair of these. They weren’t all that expensive, coming from Grizzly Tools, but they are solid. Both legs are pointed, which means I can use them with or without a pencil. They lock down solidly, and they are heavy-duty, a real handful.


What can you do with dividers? Well, there is the obvious – you can trace out arcs and circles.

But, how about stepping off evenly-spaced measurements across the face of a board? Stepping off measurements for dovetails?Bisecting an angle? 


Doing all of this without math? Sign me up!

Now that I have my new set of dividers, I have chucked my old sets, degreased the new ones and wiped on a good coat of paste wax to keep rust at bay.

Now, to take them for a spin to see what they can do!

Pass the rock!

So, for the past few weeks, our family has been moving on from the loss of my father in law. And, it’s been hard, but the impact has been significantly lessened by the fact that life continues on.

Carolina and Kenny

In fact, there is some great news that the family got. First, we found out that my niece Carolina (you remember when I built her hope chest, right?) announced that her boyfriend popped the question, and she said yes.

Seth and Dena

After that,  we got the news that our nephew Seth dropped to one knee and proposed to his girlfriend, and she answered in the affirmative…

Then, as if the good news wouldn’t stop coming, our neighbor’s daughter had the question popped to her, and SHE said yes as well.

Woah. Great news all around!

But, what’s a woodworking uncle to do?  I mean, we’re going to be headed to a LOT of ceremonies in the upcoming year, and I’m going to want to shine when it comes to showcasing the skillz.

So, I started looking for appropriate wedding gifts to give. A cutting board? Meh, too pedestrian. A hope chest? Already done for Carolina. A picture frame? Shesh, they are probably going to get a dozen of those…

Iggy has an idea

Wait a second. What if I did something special that they could treasure for years to come that could serve as a picture frame, hold memories and demonstrate some rudimentary skill as a woodworker?

Would it be possible?


I think so. I’m thinking a two-part project. The first being sort of a deep wooden memory box with a picture frame as the cover. This way, the couples could put a photo from their big day in the cover while storing other treasures of the big event – the wedding invitations, some other important favors, etc. inside.

Now, a box out all by itself on a shelf would be plan and BOOOORing. What this project would need is a special stand of some type, and I’m thinking that perhaps this past Sunday’s Weekly Plan might be what fills the need.

A Roubo bookstand

The Roubo bookstand would be an excellent way to showcase the box, suspending it above wherever it will be placed and really making it look snazzy.

Fortunately, two of the weddings aren’t planned until next spring, but one may be taking place around New Year’s Eve, so I may have to put my behind into gear and make these pieces a reality.

There’s nothing quite like a challenge, right?

Stuff I’ve built

The round coffee table

Here in Florida, there are license plates that go on about the endless summer we experience.


But, as you know, I promised Rhonda that this was going to be the summer of coffee tables, and I was glad that I was able to meet the deadline.

The Cotterman capped off the back room with a large, rectangular table built from construction-bin-sourced clear southern yellow pine, featuring a bottom shelf for storing games and other goodies.

The table, top view

The front table I wanted to be a bit more refined. As you can see, I opted to not put storage in this table, as the front entertainment center expanded our storage considerably. Also, our front room isn’t all that large to begin with, so by shrinking the dimensions a bit, I am able to make walking around the table a little easier.

flared legs

This is how the flared legs look in place. By keeping the outside points of the legs inside the diameter of the table top, I can reduce the number of stubbed toes someone is going to have to endure.

Made of some gorgeous walnut, I hope that this table serves us well for years to come. In fact, Rhonda and I may need to start looking to replace the couch up front to something a little snazzier to match how nice the table looks.

Next up, some good family news for a change. Developments which will require the services of a woodworker. But, the details will have to wait for a later post!

The Weekly Plan

Roy Underhill’s Roubo Bookstand

Andre Roubo is a well-known 18th century French woodworker whose work has inspired thousands of workbenches. However, his masterwork L’art du Menuisier, he had plans for more than just his workbench.


Roy Underhill of the Woodwright’s Shop shows the plans that Roubo had drawn up for a bookstand made of a single board. The interesting part – the wooden knuckle joints allow the pieces to pivot while never being separated.

In his own unique way, Roy shows how this is done with simple hand tools. It’s a must-see.

From cradle to grave

I have learned a lot in my 15 or so years of woodworking. From how much it hurts – and scares the heck of you – when you get hit by a board kicking back from a table saw to how practice can make a ton of difference in your abilities.

But, this past week I have learned so much more about the craft. It was once said that before the age of steel and plastics, that we were surrounded by wood from the cradle to the grave. It makes total sense.

Steven's Cradle

Over the years, I have built cradles for my newborn sons as well as anonymous moms at pregnancy crisis centers. With nothing as precious as a newborn child, it was an overwhelming feeling to know that my handcrafted work was providing comfort, security and the gentle soothing only a rocking cradle can provide as my sons slept soundly, conducting the important business of growing up.

Toy boxes. Rocking horses. Book shelves to hold a growing collection of tomes that would expand my sons’ learning and exploration of the world.

A dining room table where we could all gather – the four of us to enjoy an evening meal or to expand considerably as we gathered for a family feast to celebrate a major holiday.

cutting board

Coffee tables to host a competitive family game night, or to rest a few beverages and plates of wings on while we watched the big game or hosted parties with our friends. Cutting boards as gifts for those friends to help host us at dinner parties they threw.

Lauren's hope chest

Hope chests for our nieces so they could save those important mementos of their lives as little girls as they blossom into beautiful young ladies. Keepsake boxes for friends who got married – and now for nieces and nephews who are preparing to tie the knot.

A comfortable bed for my wife and I to rest our tired heads at the end of our long, busy days. Maybe a few outdoor projects that will help her enjoy her gardening and love of nature.

And, over the past week, I have been rather scarce due to the passing of my father-in-law just slightly over a week ago. It happened while I was coming back from Woodworking in America. Since that time, things have been a blur as Rhonda, her mom, her sisters and brother have all pulled together to make the final arrangements.

My father-in-law, a very strong and plain-spoken man, wished to be laid to rest in a plain wooden coffin, and that’s exactly what was chosen. And, on a chilly autumn afternoon in a beautiful cemetery just outside of Washington, D.C., that’s what we did, surrounding him as a loving family.

The beautiful cemetary

As I write this at about 34,000 feet somewhere above Virginia coming back from the funeral, it has struck me like a thunderbolt – every project I build is becoming a part of someone’s life. From the cradle to the grave.

And, I am humbled.

Quit monkeying around…

Hey, everyone, Iggy here, and you’ll never guess what happened – again. The tailless one – Tom – got picked up by the people at Wood Magazine for their November edition. I mean, come on, by now you would have figured that they would have gotten wise to him and his hijinks.

Wood Nov Cover

Anyway, it’s a story about – you may have guessed it – Tom making mistakes in his shop.  The guy runs a cottage industry in doing that. In this edition, he also share some lessons about his time back in Catholic High School.

Come here, Mister Iovino

I only wish I could have been there to see him get in trouble with the nuns. I’m sure THEY never put up with any of his nonsense.  Be sure to look for his words of wisdom on page 24 of your upcoming edition.

You may have also noticed that if you have tried to post a comment to one of Tom’s blog posts recently, you have been unsuccessful. There’s some type of fatal exception error that comes up. I’m sure that he had NOTHING to do with it, yet I have been working around the clock to try to figure out what he did to mess things up.

You think this is easy?

So, if you know anything about WordPress and want to help, try to post something to the blog and see what the error is. Maybe one of you is smarter than Tom (I’m willing to bet that most – if not all – of you are), and we can get the ship righted…